Okaloosa, Walton, Santa Rosa officials urge public to be prepared for hurricane season.

With hurricane season officially starting Thursday, local officials from Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties are urging residents to begin preparing for what could be a very active season, which ends Nov. 30.

According to the most recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, forecasters are predicting an above-average hurricane season this year, with the potential for up to 17 named storms. Of those storms, five to nine could become hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).

Northwest Florida narrowly escaped the paths of Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The last major hurricanes to hit Northwest Florida were Hurricane Dennis (Category 3), which made landfall July 10, 2005, and Hurricane Ivan (Category 5), which made landfall Sept. 16, 2004.

Jeff Goldberg, emergency management director for Walton County, said citizens should be prepared for severe weather regardless of what the experts predict.

“The fact of the matter is, storm predictions are not going to change our preparedness strategies or our operations,” Goldberg said. “1992 was a below-normal hurricane season, but we had Hurricane Andrew (a Category 5 storm). And there were other hurricane seasons that were above average but we didn’t get any storms. They were all out at sea.”

Goldberg said the best way to prepare is for each household to make sure their disaster kit is fully stocked with all necessary equipment, including batteries, a radio and non-perishable food, such as peanut butter and tuna.

Ken Wolfe, emergency management director for Okaloosa County, said it’s also important for families to come up with plans in advance for what they will do if a hurricane were to strike the region.

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“They need to decide, depending on where they live, whether they’re going to go to a shelter if they don’t think their house will withstand the storm, or if they’re going to go to a hotel or to a relative’s home who lives outside the area,” Wolfe said. “And if they are going to evacuate, know the routes.”

Evacuation routes for each of the evacuation zones can be found on the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s website.

Brad Baker, emergency management director for Santa Rosa County, said it’s important to make plans in advance instead of waiting to see if the area will get any storms or not.

“Whether you think it’s going to be an average season, or below average, it really only takes one hurricane to ruin your season,” Baker said. “We encourage people to take it seriously and prepare — this is a good time for that, when the tropics are not active.”

Each county’s emergency management coordinator also encouraged citizens to sign up for their respective alert systems.

Ultimately, while it’s been over a decade since the Atlantic has produced a hurricane that has directly impacted Northwest Florida, officials urge citizens to not be complacent.

“It only takes one (storm),” Baker said. “Be prepared, and be prepared now.”

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